'Avengers: Endgame' spoiler-free film review: Stirring, epic finale for Marvel's mightiest heroes

'Avengers: Endgame' spoiler-free film review: Stirring, epic finale for Marvel's mightiest heroes

More than a decade ago, Marvel embarked on an ambitious plan: establish beloved superheroes and create a cinematic universe. Nearly two dozen films later, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has told various intertwined superhero stories - all leading to the once-in-a-generation epic "Avengers: Endgame" (opening in theaters April 26.)

In short: After Thanos decimated half of all live in the universe, the remaining Avengers assemble on a daring mission to save everyone who was wiped out - including their fallen allies. Stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Karen Gillan and Josh Brolin.

Reviewing this film is a fool's errand. "Endgame" is the 22nd of Marvel's series of superhero flicks -- people are either into them or they're not. Everyone interested in this movie already have their tickets reserved. This review is addressed to two groups of people: the hardcore MCU faithful and those just tangentially aware of the Avengers and all their adventures.

"Endgame" is a love letter to Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, the Hulk, Thor, all their allies and every die-hard Marvel fan who has watched every film in the MCU catalog. The film is one, massive payoff to each movie that preceded it and to all their characters. This is an unmatched superhero epic that closes the chapter on one part of the MCU - while opening a brand new, exciting chapter. "Endgame" is a celebration of the heroes have gotten to know for the past decade, as well as a handing the torch to its newest generation of heroes.

Devoted MCU fans will have seen every film in the series at least once - and likely more than once ... but that's not completely necessary to enjoy "Endgame." It would be helpful to have at least seen "Captain America: Civil War" and "Avengers: Infinity War." It would be a stretch to firmly assert that "Endgame" completely stands on its own - but the film does enough to

Don't let the three-hour runtime intimidate you. Just know there's no real good time for a bathroom break - which only speaks to the film's tight pacing. The ultimate compliment to this three-hour adventure is it doesn't feel like a three-hour movie. Just don't have anything to drink before the movie, go to the bathroom before getting seated and plan on getting hydrated after the movie.

Despite the film's long runtime, the film's plot is pretty straightforward and basic. Without going into detail, the Avengers have an idea and execute an audacious gameplan. "Infinity War" featured a sprawling cast of the MCU's biggest characters - but in that film's aftermath, only a handful of Avengers are left. As a result, "Endgame" has more time to invest in the remaining heroes -- which is absolutely vital for this story of broken heroes trying to undo their biggest mistake. The staggering loss at the hands of Thanos has fundamentally changed several of the Avengers -- and its in their darkest hour that they must rise up to avenge their greatest defeat.

The plot is absurd and wild. The film allows its iconic, beloved heroes to have real character arcs within this closing chapter to the MCU's longest-running story. The founding Avengers each get their moments to shine - and some truly rousing moments. At times jarring, soulful, hilarious, bittersweet, intense and especially entertaining, "Endgame" is a daring gambit on every level.

Twenty years ago, it was a big deal just to get a good series of Spider-Man and X-Men movies. Then "The Dark Knight" truly showed how comic book films can tell compelling, dramatic stories. The first "Avengers" film seemed like an audacious and crazy idea. "Endgame" earns degree-of-difficulty points because, on paper, it simply shouldn't work. It's the second-part of a massive two-part film event capping the events of more than twenty films. And yet, "Endgame" lives up to the audacity of its promise. Admittedly, some plot threads are left dangling or flat out appear to contradict themselves in this film - something that would result in a major score deduction for most other films, but the highs of "Endgame" are so much higher than the nitpicky "lows" (apparent plot potholes).

Final verdict: "Endgame" is an exciting, exhilarating, heartfelt, personal and thrilling roller coaster of emotions and pure cinematic spectacle.

Score: 4.5/5

"Avengers: Endgame" opens in theaters nationwide April 26. This superhero film has a running time of 3 hours and 1 minute and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.

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